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January 23, 1994|CHARLES SOLOMON

VENUS ENVY by Rita Mae Brown (Bantam: $5.99; 388 pp.). Brown's comic tale of love and honesty recalls her previous novel, "Bingo." When Mary Frazier Armstrong, a wealthy, bisexual art dealer, learns she is dying, she writes series of brutally frank letters to her family and friends--only to discover she isn't really dying. Her efforts to cope with the aftermath of her honesty are often funny, but life is a little too easy for the rich and beautiful Frazier; unlike the feisty Bingo, she has no real stake in her small Virginia town. Brown doesn't seem to have known how to end her story: An incongruous coda, in which the Greek gods proclaim the beauty of ambisexual passion, falls flat.

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